Harry and Meghan’s first trip is just an Irish school tour
Patrick Freyne: Prince should feel at home here, given he looks like a John Hinde postcard
The duke and duchess of Sussex, who you’ll probably know as “Harry and Meghan”, arrived at Government Buildings to be formally welcomed to Ireland by our “Teaset” (to quote one hapless royal correspondent), Leo Varadkar.
Outside Government Buildings about 100 well-wishers have gathered. A young American woman, in Dublin for an internship, says Meghan Markle’s role in Suits is the reason she is training to be a lawyer.
Sixteen-year-old Jamie has come from Claregalway with his mother in the hope of seeing the royal couple.
“He just loves the royals,” says his mother, Maggie. “His heart was thumping and he could barely breathe when they were driving by.”
His favourite contemporary royal, he tells me, is Queen Elizabeth. “There’s no one like her.”
His favourite historical royal is George VI. “He looks like my grandad and he was king during the war.”
“But what did he do?” asks his mother.
“Kinging,” he says and laughs.
The visit to Dublin on Tuesday was the couple’s first official foreign jaunt, just a month since Charles and Camilla’s visit to Munster and seven years since the queen broke a hundred-year royal visit dry spell and went to the English Market in Cork.
The newlyweds are already quite busy. That morning they were at Westminster Abbey to celebrate 100 years of the Royal Air Force, and on Monday they attended the christening of Prince Louis, where Harry gave the regal infant an £8,000 first edition of Winnie the Pooh (NB: Prince Louis can’t read).
Why are they here? Katie Nicholl, author of Harry: Life, Loss and Love, says she thinks the young royals are increasingly used to smooth over rough edges in the UK’s current public image.
It’s significant, she thinks, that the Foreign Office “shipped them out in this pre-Brexit time . . . They said they wanted to work as a team, and this is the first chance we get to see them working together as a married couple.”
First of everything
Omid Scobie, an ABC News contributor and royal expert, recalls Prince William’s recent trip to the Middle East and observes that the young royals nowadays “are very well-briefed on the political sensitivities . . . It’s also exciting with Harry and Meghan, because we’re getting to cover the first of everything. The first engagement. The first foreign visit.”
They’re certainly a different type of royal.
Meghan was a star of the American TV drama Suits (which I reckon is exactly the kind of show binge-watched by upwardly mobile Fine Gael politicians) and prior to being cloistered with the royals, she was a smart, feminist blogger.
Meanwhile, Harry should be right at home, the reformed ginger bad boy looking for all the world like he’s stepped out of a John Hinde postcard.
Twasn’t a John Hinde donkey he rode in on, however, but a Range Rover in the middle of a high-security motorcade.
He’s wearing a dark navy suit and a dark green tie. Markle is wearing a green Givenchy dress (“moss green” or “emerald green”, depending on which fashion-conscious colleague I listen to).
Leo Varadkar greets them in the sunny concourse under the watchful gaze of a red-frocked protocol woman from the royal staff. He shakes their hands, smiles and walks them across the scorched grass of the courtyard, before stopping to discuss the foundation stone laid by Harry’s great, great grandfather Edward VII, who technically once owned the gaff.
Topics of conversation
Then they retreat to the Taoiseach’s offices where they discuss, I am reliably told, the possibility of the Defence Forces participating in the Invictus Games; the duchess’s membership of Trinity College’s Philosophical Society; the fact she studied at NWU Chicago, where Varadkar’s partner, Dr Matt Barrett, works; Ireland’s tech industry; women in tech (an interest of the duchess’s); an Evie Hone stained-glass window called My Four Green Fields; and the fact Leo’s sister works in Great Ormond Street in London, which is, coincidentally, where Harry and Meghan live.
They do not, as far as I’m aware, discuss the messier seasons of Suits.
Then they meet some staff and sign the visitors’ book, the duchess’s first such act as a royal. “You do it much nicer than me,” the prince says.
Back on the concourse they wave and smile for a moment before being whisked away to a garden party at the Glencairn, Sandyford residence of British ambassador Robin Barnett, where guests include Orla Kiely, Catriona Balfe, Aisling Bea, Barry Keoghan, Brian O’Driscoll and Amy Huberman.
On Wednesday, in our great new tradition of making visiting royals go on a school tour, the duke and duchess will visit President Michael D Higgins, Croke Park, the Famine Memorial, the Irish Emigration Museum and the digital coworking hub DogPatch Labs. They will also visit the Book of Kells, another vintage volume that Harry may attempt to buy for Prince Louis.
Sadly, there are no plans to visit Krystle nightclub or Dicey’s Garden, venues Meghan Markle reportedly visited during a trip here in 2013. I imagine Prince Harry would enjoy them, but, as he said to the Teaset of this trip, “It’s business really.”